Amtrak January Service Cuts Likely Averted

Amtrak service cuts in January have been averted. Amtrak CEO William Flynn advised employees on Tuesday that the company will refrain from enforcing a company decree that workers who were not fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus by early January would be terminated.

Consequently, he said in a memo to Amtrak workers, the passenger carrier does not anticipate reducing its level of service next month.

Flynn said the company will allow unvaccinated workers to remain on the job if they are able to submit a negative COVID-19 test weekly or more frequently if needed.

Amtrak has been warning for weeks that service frequency reductions were possible unless it achieved 100 percent compliance with a vaccination rule it announced last summer.

Last week Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said in a congressional hearing that service reductions were likely on long-distance trains because some crew bases serving those trains had a relatively high rate of noncompliance with the vaccination mandate.

However, the passenger carrier is now pointing to court action staying enforcement of an executive order issued by President Joseph Biden ordering federal contractors to require that their employees be fully vaccinated.

In the wake of those court orders, the three Class 1 railroads that had ordered their workers to be vaccinated – Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and BNSF – have rescinded enforcement of those rules, at least temporarily.

But Amtrak had said it planned to go ahead and enforce its vaccination requirement, noting that the carrier had announced its rule before the executive order had been issued by the Biden administration.

Amtrak’s original rule had allowed testing as an alternative to vaccination. The rule also permitted certain exemptions to the vaccination requirement.

Workers who have been granted an exemption will be able to continue working, Flynn said in his memo.

This is a change from a previous proviso that those who were exempted would be placed on unpaid leave.

The Flynn memo said workers who failed to submit to COVID-19 testing  will be initially placed on a leave of absence and could face termination.

Thus far nearly 96 percent of Amtrak’s workforce has reached compliance with the vaccination rule or received an accommodation while 97.3 percent has received at least one immunization. That leaves fewer than 500 workers in noncompliance. Flynn’s memo has been posted on the website of Railway Age and can be read by clicking on the following link. https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/intercity/amtrak-updated-employee-vaccine-policy-allows-testing-eliminates-service-impact/

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